Looking for a family vacation that combines cosmopolitan cool with traditional Southern charm? Say hello to Greenville, South Carolina. Located between Atlanta, Georgia and Charlotte, North Carolina, on the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, Greenville is home to a vibrant culinary scene, emerging arts community, tree-lined, pedestrian-friendly streets and outdoor activities galore. We recently visited this lively metropolis that is dripping with Southern hospitality and came back with plenty to report. Scroll down to see what we discovered, and why Greenville should be on your family’s travel list.
Picnic & Play at Falls Park
Greenville is full of iconic sites, and none is more recognizable than Falls Park on the Reedy. Located in the middle of downtown, in the West End Historic District, this nationally acclaimed park is home to 32 acres of beautiful greenspace, rock-walled gardens, walking paths and scenic overlooks. But the real highlight is the park’s 345-foot Liberty Bridge which is held in the air by a single suspension cable—it’s the only one of its kind in the country! Let your kids lead the way over the curved bridge and through the treetops while you take in the unobstructed aerial views of Falls Park and the waterfall. On a sunny day, this is the place to picnic and play!
Bike & Stroll for Miles!
For families who like to bike, stroll or scoot, the Prisma Health Swamp Rabbit Trail is a 22-mile, multi-use trail system that runs along the Reedy River and connects Greenville County with the area’s schools, parks and businesses. Rent bikes at Reedy Rides and hop on this fantastic trail which received the award for America’s Best Urban Bike Path.
Want to give geocaching a try? Within two-tenths of a mile from the Swamp Rabbit Trail you’ll find over 60 active geocaches, with more in the works!
photo: Chelsey Ashford
Hit the Farmers Market
If you’re looking for a fun (and free!) Saturday morning activity, hit the TD Saturday Market. Open May through October, this magnificent market stretches two-blocks of Main Street and is a mecca for regionally sourced fruits and veggies, meats, dairy products, fresh pasta and baked goods as well as cooking demos, live music and kids’ activities. To get the best offerings of the day and avoid the huge crowds, plan to arrive when the market opens at 8 a.m.
If you like the Saturday market, be sure to give Main Street Fridays a try. From March to August, this 24-week concert series features bands from across the region, food and drink, dancing and kids’ activities along a closed section of Main Street. It’s like the pre-party for the Saturday Market!
Go on a Scavenger Hunt
One trip down Main Street and you will notice that art and entertainment take center stage in Greenville. In addition to street musicians playing at all hours of the day, you will find more than 95 different works of art as part of Greenville’s Arts in Public Places initiative. The diverse collections range from towering abstract steel sculptures, fountains and water walls, to hand-painted murals and life-size bronze incarnations of Greenville’s most prominent founders. If your kids love a good game of hide-and-seek, try to locate the different art pieces on the Art Walking Tour or participate in the Mice on Main self-guided scavenger hunt. Nine little bronze mice have taken up permanent residence along five blocks of Main Street as part of a senior project inspired by the book, Goodnight Moon. Follow the clues to find the mice or download a printable version of the scavenger hunt here.
photo: Kristina Moy
Explore, Play & Invent
If you’re looking for an activity to keep your kids busy for hours, head a few blocks west of Main Street to the spacious Heritage Green campus. Here, you will find six comprehensive cultural facilities: the Carolina Music Museum, Greenville Little Theatre, The Children’s Museum of the Upstate, Greenville County Museum of Art, Upcountry History Museum and Hughes Main Library. For kids 12 & under, The Children’s Museum of the Upstate (currently the 10th largest children’s museum in the world!) provides 80,000 square feet of hands-on learning fun, an outdoor playground and a Spark!Lab where little creators can invent, explore and imagine through science experiments, games and activities.
If you’ve got a crew of musicians, be sure to check out the Carolina Music Museum. Housed in a former Coca-Cola bottling pant, this fantastic museum is home to the world-famous Carolina Clavier Collection as well as harpsichords, early pianos and more. Children under 6 are free.
photo: Kristina Moy
Shop ‘Til You Drop
Main Street is Greenville’s main throughway and where you will find an array of boutiques, art galleries and eateries. Stop into Poppington’s Gourmet Popcorn and say hello to Rose (she and her husband make over 75 different flavors of popcorn) and try one of her outrageous flavors like Dill Pickle, Cheeseburger or Sriracha. After you’ve had your fill of popcorn, find your way to the Mast General Store. This restored mercantile, which has retail history dating back to 1898, is where you will find everything from clothing, travel gear and traditional housewares to rows (and rows!) of penny candy barrels lined up along the store’s creaky wooden floors. It’s a throwback like no other!
If you want to add extra excitement to your Main Street experience, catch the free downtown trolley that runs year-round from Thursday to Sunday. The red and blue open-air trolleys offer a vintage look and feel, complete with a cow catcher on the front and 35 wooden bench seats inside.
photo: Kristina Moy
Catch a Ball Game
If you’ve got a crew of baseball fanatics, you’ll definitely want to plan a visit to Fluor Field at the West End. The stadium is home to the Greenville Drive baseball team—the A affiliate of the Boston Red Sox—and is a mini replica of Fenway Park, complete with its own “Green Monster.” Single game tickets start at just $9, there’s a fantastic playground inside the park with views of the field and concession stands sell ballpark faves on the cheap. Home run!
Fill Your Bellies with Amazing Food
When it comes to finding delicious food in South Carolina, Greenville is a foodie’s paradise. Whether your crew is into BBQ, Southern classics, street tacos or pizza, you’ll have no problem satisfying their appetites with more than 120 locally owned restaurants, cafes and bakeries within 10 city blocks. Of course, if you’re looking for a white-tablecloth dining experience with live music, a decadent spot for Sunday brunch or a craft brewery, Greenville has those too, and they’re not hard to find.
photo: Kristina Moy
To help you narrow down the dining choices, we’ve compiled a list of our favorite Greenville restaurants. Consider: Sidewall Pizza for hand tossed pizza, salads and homemade ice cream; Soby’s New South Cuisine for a blend of contemporary cuisine infused with traditional Southern ingredients; The Lazy Goat for Mediterranean cuisine with a “made from scratch” menu featuring influences from Spain, Morocco, Italy, France, Greece, Africa and the Middle East; Nose Dive Gastropub for urban comfort food (think: grits, sweet potato waffles and chicken, biscuits and gravy) and a selection of handcrafted beers; Passerelle Birstro for French-inspired cuisine; Cantina 76 for Mexican-inspired cuisine, street tacos and hand-crafted margaritas; Luna Rosa Gelato Cafe & Restaurant for Southern classics, craft cocktails and the best gelato in the U.S.; El Thrifty Social Club for authentic, Mexican-inspired dishes with a side of gaming (think: bocce ball, pool, corn hole); Port City Java for locally roasted coffee, baked goods and the best breakfast sandwiches in town; and Rick Erwin’s Deli for house-made sandwiches, salads and a $5 kid’s menu.
If you want to experience some of the best cuisine in Greenville, book a culinary tour with John Nolan. At the Chef’s Table is an exciting dining and cultural experience that will take you to five restaurants—each with the opportunity to meet the chefs and sample their dishes—as well as learn fascinating insights into Greenville’s rich history, culture and architecture.
Where to Stay
Whether you’re looking for spacious accommodations, a hotel with a large pool or a luxurious escape, you’ll find a variety of hotels, inns and B&Bs conveniently located throughout Greenville. For families who want to spread out a bit, we recommend the Hyatt Place Greenville Downtown. Newly opened just two blocks off Main Street, the hotel offers 130 spacious rooms with separate sleeping and living areas, an indoor pool, complimentary daily breakfast for Hyatt members and free shuttle service to and from Main Street.
This trip was paid for by VisitGreenvilleSC, but all opinions expressed here belong to the writer.